IPv6 is a new Internet protocol. For Cox services, it is first being employed on our Optical Internet Data service. We’ve been preparing for this change. Customers should not experience service degradation from this transition but have a seamless switch to the new protocol.
Why a new Internet protocol is happening. IPv6 replaces the current Internet Protocol, called IPv4, which has been in use since 1981. One thing that IPv4 specifies is the unique IP address of an Internet-connected device. These IP addresses look something like this: 188.8.131.52. With the explosion of Internet-enabled devices, including mobile netbooks, tablets and smartphones, as well as developing nations’ fast-adoption to the Internet, IPv4 will not be able to supply the world’s need for addresses. In North America, these addresses are expected to be exhausted in mid-2012. The free pool of addresses has already run out in the Asia-Pacific region. IPv6 addresses are 128-bit in size and are formatted like this: 2001:1E8C:D0CA:F001:0000:0000:0000:0000. The new format supplies an extremely large number of possible addresses: 3.4 x 10^38 (or 340 undecillion).
What a Cox customer can expect. As integration of IPv6 takes place, customers should not perceive a change in their Internet experience. We’re trialing installation, operations and support processes right now in our markets to prevent any negative business impact. There will be no change in monthly charges for IPv6 connectivity.
How Cox prepared for IPv6. Our backbone supports IPv6 today, as well as the backbone routers, Internet transit and peering connections between other Internet service and content providers (i.e. Google) and us. All our market metro core networks support IPv6 now.
Cox uses a "Dual Stack" implementation. This means that IPv4 and IPv6 will run concurrently for our IPv6-enabled customers at the network level. The cable MSOs (mutli-service operators) have chosen this important approach to minimize customer impact (see CableLabs IPv6). While IPv4 cannot support the growing address needs of the world, it is not going away anytime soon. And IPv4 to IPv6 is neither forward nor backward compatible. Service Providers can address this problem using what is called “Carrier-Grade Network Address Translation” or “NAT.” NAT works very well for most Internet and Email use. Latency is the only measured effect from NAT for general use, and the effect is negligible for most applications. However, packet-loss occurs when peer-to-peer networking, video-streaming or broadcast/multicast applications use NAT. Dual stack eliminates this issue.
Dual stack transition is inevitable. As a company becomes IPv6-capable, it needs to maintain its communication ability via an IPv4 address. It will need to keep this IPv4 capability and operate in dual stack mode with Cox services for as long as there are other devices and services on the Internet that are reachable only using IPv4.
What is Cox still working on to be IPv6 compatible. Cox is an active participant in Internet standards bodies, industry forums and IPv6 trials and testing. We are continuing to deploy IPv6 deeper into our network to the "headend" to support business customers and also to residential "headends" to support our growing DOCSIS 3-enabled-network.
We are in the process of testing Cox-provided customer equipment with all the vendors we do business with today to validate their IPv6 functionality is working properly within our network. The DOCSIS 3.0 standard supports the IPv6 protocol but with the software changes made to the equipment, we must validate this functionality.
New applications that exploit IPv6 capabilities are on the horizon, and we are looking to provide opportunities that this protocol can bring to our end-users and to improve the network we supply.
What customers should do to prepare. You should begin to understand where your equipment and software stands regarding IPv6 capability. This inventory will assist you in planning what needs to change as IPv6 becomes more prevalent. IPv6 will need to be activated on your routers, modems, servers and software. For example, Microsoft Windows XP is not IPv6 out of the box (see for example http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2478747).
For new purchases of equipment and software, make sure your selections are IPv6 capable. Also, businesses may use consumer-grade equipment that is not IPv6 capable. Some typical examples include IP-TVs and gaming consoles. For help in planning, see the the additional resources section below for a link to a business readiness tool prepared by the NTIA.
Do you need to initiate a change to IPv6 in the near future?
If you use your Internet connection for sending and receiving files and email as well as general Internet use, you can probably wait for Cox to initiate conversations about whether IPv6 makes sense for your business. Having your information about internal software and hardware needs at hand will ease the change. If you are a government agency, you may be mandated to be IPv6 compatible by a certain date. Some corporate entities are also beginning to mandate a policy for upgrade during the next calendar years. If your business regularly communicates with International locations that are quickly moving to IPv6, this transition may become a necessity for you. Also, if your business streams video, runs a peer-to-peer network or operates voice-over-IP service, you should start your internal review and transition planning now as IPv6 will be a higher performing platform for these applications.
How running out of IPv4 addresses affects customers. At some point, new IPv4 addresses will no longer be available. The only way for a new user to obtain a unique address will be to have an IPv6 address. Because of Cox’s interoperable-dual-stack approach, IPv6 customers should not experience any issues. IPv4 customers that must continue using this protocol for equipment and software reasons may need to use address sharing to continue IPv4 operations. This particular challenge might become a concern in the next 5 years, or as early as 2014. Cox hopes that this will be the exception instead of the rule, as IPv6 will continue to grow into dominance and ultimately provide the best overall Internet user experience. Regardless, Cox will support IPv4 service well after exhaustion of the addresses with our dual stack implementation for as many years as the network’s use persists.
Benefits that come with IPv6. As IPv6 grows, customers may experience some improvements and benefits of the protocol. These are not additional elements that Cox delivers, but rather protocol-inherent features.
The advantages to IPv6 are:
● Improved security: IPv6 provides a built-in framework for secure connections using IPsec, making these connections easier to use. Such a framework was an afterthought for IPv4. If you are already using IPsec in your environment today, the use of the built-in IPv6 framework should be considered in your transition planning.
● Faster routing due to fixed header sizes: Unlike IPv4, which can have a variable header size, IPv6 has a fixed header size. This makes it easier for routers to forward packets since the destination address is always in the same place.
● More efficient Multicast support: Multicast allows a single source of data to be delivered to many destinations at once. IPv4’s multicast capabilities were problematic and hard to manage. As a result, it was never widely deployed. Multicast is a basic feature available for use on IPv6-enabled hosts. Applications that can make use of Multicast will find IPv6 a much richer and stable environment than IPv4 in which to run.
● Auto-configuring: IPv4 supports managed configuration via the use of DHCP, and IPv6 is similar. In addition, any IPv6 host can obtain a usable IPv6 address at boot-time, which is the auto-configure feature. Depending on the parameters set by the network administrator, this address may be limited to use on the local network, the company network or could be set up to provide global network access. This does not require a DHCP server in the network.
Additional resources. This collection of resources details IPv6 from a variety of perspectives. We hope the information brings clarity to the overall change and what your business needs to support your transition:
● ARIN – The North America pool managing organization of IP address supply: https://www.arin.net/knowledge/ipv6_info_center.html
● Cisco – whitepaper on enterprise preparedness: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/iosswrel/ps6537/ps6553/whitepaper_c11-586154.html
● NTIA – IPv6 Readiness Tool for Businesses: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2011/ipv6-readiness-tool-businesses
● We are providing IPv6 Cox Optical Internet service for select customers today.
● We are network-ready for carrier access and metro service connections via IPv6 today and will supply service-for-sale level connections in 2012.
● Residential services are being supplied now and will be ready when timing requires it.
● As business customers transition, we will continue to provide IPv4 interoperability.
● Prepare a review of your existing internal hardware and software to understand your IPv6 readiness. If you have consumer-grade equipment, such as IP-TVs, these are likely to be IPv4 only devices.
● As with any network change, evaluate your security measures.